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Health Center Today, November 17, 2010

November Is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month – Know the Early Warning Signs

By Carolyn Pennington

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Those who are afflicted with the progressive, degenerative brain disease experience a loss of intellectual function (thinking, remembering and reasoning) so severe that it interferes with an individual’s daily functioning and eventually results in death. More than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's disease, most of them age 65 or older. Aging baby boomers are expected to increase that number dramatically.

Dr. Patrick Coll, who specializes in geriatric medicine at the UConn Center on Aging, says signs of the early stages of Alzheimer’s aren’t always clear-cut -- after all, it can be hard to distinguish them from the normal memory changes that come with age. Coll says if someone has several or even most of these symptoms, it does not mean they definitely have the disease. It does mean they should be thoroughly examined by a medical specialist trained in evaluating memory disorders.

Early Warning Signs:

  • Asking the same question over and over again.
  • Repeating the same story, word for word, again and again.
  • Forgetting how to cook, make repairs, play cards (activities that were previously done with ease).
  • Losing the ability to pay bills/balance a checkbook.
  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings, or misplacing household objects.
  • Neglecting to bathe, or wearing the same clothes over and over again, while insisting that they have taken a bath or that their clothes are still clean.
  • Relying on someone else to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves.

"If you suspect your loved one might have Alzheimer’s, you need to see a doctor soon," says Coll. "The sooner you get treatment, the more effective it will be. Alzheimer’s disease isn’t curable, but it is treatable. Medications can slow down the development of symptoms. However, the drugs work best when started early on in the course of the disease."

Coll says another reason to see a doctor is that lots of other conditions can cause dementia or similar symptoms. They include vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, depression, drug interactions, and alcohol abuse. Putting off a trip to the doctor could leave your loved one suffering pointlessly.